Joseph Dandurand, manager of the Kwantlen Cultural Centre on McMillan Island will perform selections from his two books of original poetry on Friday evening at lelem’ Arts and Culture Café in Fort Langley.

Telling their stories: Poetry reading at lelem’ Café this Friday

Joseph Dandurand's poetry and the artifacts he oversees offer a glimpse into both his personal and cultural history

Joseph Dandurand quips that he writes poetry because it’s cheaper than therapy.

The 50-year-old, single father of three has a serious presence, yet he’s friendly and welcoming as he sits behind his desk at the Kwantlen First Nation Cultural Centre on McMillan Island, chatting amicably.

It is his collection of poems about urban Aboriginal life in Canada — with their themes of love, loss and longing, addiction and abuse, playing out in short, often haunting phrases — that lend credence to his claim. Even one offered in jest.

It is this work that Dandurand will recite on Friday during a showcase at lelem’ Arts and Culture Café, where he will read from two books of original poetry.

Copies of Hear and Foretell arrived so recently, that most of them are still stacked inside a cardboard box on the corner of his desk.

The second book, I Want, is still at the printer’s on Vancouver Island. But he will perform selections from it as well, he said.

Perform is the word he chooses to describe the way he tells his stories —laid out on the page in terse, blunt terms, seldom more than half a dozen words at a time. Usually fewer.

They are the stories of a young man who was an alcoholic by the time he was legally allowed to drink. Who beat a drug addiction at 26. Who grew up with no roots, as a “military brat,” moving from base to base across Canada.

Dandurand’s mother had grown up on the Kwantlen reservation, but left the community at 18 and married a soldier she met in Ontario.

They were in New Brunswick by the time Dandurand was born. As a young adult, he returned to Ontario to study creative writing and theatre at Algonquin College in Ottawa.

It was here he discovered that he had a gift for turning words into pictures — not all of them pretty, but each one with a certain beauty that only the truth can convey.

“I needed a place to belong,” he said of his decision to attend university.

It wasn’t until he was 30 years old that he reconnected with his roots.

As Dandurand describes it, he’d made a stop in Langley to fish on his way to Mexico, “to drink beer on the beach and write bad poetry,” when chief Marilyn Gabriel offered him a job as steward of the Kwantlen nation’s cultural artifacts.

He accepted and soon began reading, teaching himself everything he could about First Nations archaeology.

Over the past two decades, the community has collected thousands of pieces — most found in the Stave Lake area, where Kwantlen lands were flooded for hydro power.

Drawers and cabinets are filled with stone cutting blades of different shapes and sizes.

Most were carved by Kwantlen people, others — clearly from someplace else — show evidence of early trade among the regions.

Today, they are kept in a repository in the community’s brand new Kwantlen  Cultural Centre.

As part of the heritage management plan related to the Stave Lake lands, B.C. Hydro paid for the construction of the large cedar building, which is managed by Dandurand.

In addition to the artifact repository, it holds a long house where ceremonies are held, including weddings, funerals and the annual winter celebration, as well as an industrial kitchen, from which events are catered.

The poet and playwright doesn’t see his work as a writer as being separate from his work at the cultural centre.

“A lot of that ties into the being the manager of this space,” he said.

“I tell people to come here with a good mind and a good heart, and to leave stresses and negativity outside.”

Dandurand’s poetry reading will begin at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 22, inside the lelem’ Arts and Culture Café, Fort Langley, which is also owned and operated by the Kwantlen First Nation.

The public is invited to stop by and listen and enjoy a coffee or a glass of wine.

Lelem’ is located at #100-23285 Billy Brown Rd. in Fort Langley.

For more information, contact Dandurand by email at tony@kwantlenfn.ca or by phone at 604-761-2007.

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